Thursday, May 3, 2007

ESL Survival Expressions

A few days ago, I wrote some survival questions for beginning ESL students. I’ve also found that due to cultural differences, it’s a good idea to teach ESL speakers a few expressions. Here are a few things I think speakers of other languages should learn right away when they start studying English in the U.S.

1. “Bless You”

This should be said whenever someone sneezes. It doesn’t matter if you know the person sneezing or not. For example, you are sitting on the bus and a stranger next to you sneezes, you should say, “bless you.” Incidentally, this courtesy (and cultural norm) doesn’t just apply to ESL speakers. Everyone should say this when another person nearby sneezes. Of course, there is that awkward situation that we all have when someone sneezes three, four, five, etc. times. That's something even native-English speakers have trouble with. When someone says “bless you,” the appropriate response is “thank you.”

2. “Thank you”

Culturally, American native-English speakers probably say “thank you” more than any other people on the planet. I’ve been told by some ESL students that we seem disingenuous with all the “thank yous” we say. We can’t help it! For the vast majority of us, we really do mean it! We’ve been brought up to say thank you for everything. And if we don’t say thank you, we seem rude. If another person doesn’t say “thank you” to us, then we tend to feel the other person is rude. “Thank you” can probably never be said too much by ESL speakers if they want to fit in culturally.

3. “Excuse me”

This is an expression that Americans use for all sorts of things. For example, we can say “excuse me” when we accidentally bump into someone on the bus or if we want to get someone’s attention. We can also say “sorry” when we bump into someone.

4. “Sorry” or “I’m sorry”

Not only is “I’m sorry” a very useful expression for ESL speakers to learn, it would also be more helpful if more Americans used this more often.

Please write to me if you think there are other essential survival expressions for beginning ESL students to know.


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